About 10 years ago, the leaders of Our Savior’s Church were looking to help the community in tangible ways and demonstrate the love of Jesus through helping their neighbors. It started simply enough, when the senior pastor and his wife hosted annual banquets to help single moms and widows with encouragement, fellowship and gifts. It expanded to weekend and sometimes week-long events where the group would coordinate volunteers and facilitate repairs and renovations to local schools, and a physical location in St. Martinville periodically facilitating food distribution and medical outreaches.
Over time, the outreach work was named Love Acadiana and expanded to meet the growing needs in the community. These included after-school tutoring, back-t0-school supply drives for students and teachers, neighborhood cleanup days, holiday food and gift drives, a prison ministry, foster care work and helping the homeless community. Love Acadiana began to excel at connecting volunteers and others in the faith-based community to engage in tangible acts of love and service throughout Acadiana.
When floods devastated the area in 2016, Love Acadiana partnered with others in the faith community to help clean out more than 400 homes. More than 4,000 volunteers were a part of this work. The result was more than $200,000 worth of commercial blowers and dehumidifiers to dry out flooded homes, more than 24,000 meals distributed and more than $150,000 worth of cleaning supplies and dry food delivered.
One year later, Love Acadiana partnered with Eight Days of Hope, a national Christian disaster relief agency, to perform an eight-day volunteer event in Acadiana, where $4 million worth of flood rebuilding work was done in 130 homes by 2,000 volunteers, both local and from around the country.
In 2019, Love Acadiana partnered with the William C. Schumacher Family Foundation and other foundations to form Love Our Schools, and brought together 3,000 volunteers to revitalize eight Lafayette Parish schools on one Saturday they referred to as “Serve Day.” That initiative drew $1.3 million in donations which, combined with the volunteer efforts, resulted in the completion of more than 100 projects, including new paint, playgrounds, bleachers, basketball rims, 5,000 backpacks with supplies, teacher lounges and more.
All of that work kept Love Acadiana volunteers busy enough. But this year, their work has grown even more as the organization provides assistance to those dealing with COVID-19 and the aftermath of hurricanes.
When the pandemic struck, Love Acadiana was approached by the Schumacher Foundation to distribute surgical masks to those who needed them most, to help stop the spread of COVID here,” said Tara Baudoin, the executive director of Love Acadiana.
“The Schumacher Foundation was able to acquire the masks at a time when people were having a hard time getting them,” Baudoin said. Other donors got involved, and with collaboration from Graham Group, the initiative known as Love Our Community was formed to help combat COVID. “Love Acadiana organized the system and volunteers to distribute the masks, combined with educational brochures about COVID, to people who were subject to be quarantined. We also distributed the mask packets to local nonprofits, churches, community clinics and testing sites throughout the state.”
At the same time, Baudoin said the Love Acadiana team knew that job losses or furloughs as a result of COVID meant there was a greater need in the community for food. With the support of the Love Our Community Foundation, the organization developed Buddy Blessing Boxes to help those families in need.
“This project allowed individuals, or ‘buddies,’ to identify others who were new to unemployment and bless them with a week’s worth of food,” Baudoin explained. “It allowed volunteers to share love with their neighbor in a way that was more of a gift.”
Overall, 1,000 Buddy Blessing Boxes were distributed thanks to 400 volunteers, Baudoin said.
Just as the COVID situation appeared to be more under control, Hurricane Laura pounded southwest Louisiana at the end of August, damaging or destroying thousands of homes and businesses. In response, Love Acadiana again partnered with Eight Days of Hope to provide disaster relief.
Baudoin said the result was the completion of 339 cleanup jobs at approximately 200 homes. More than 700 volunteers took part in the work for approximately 20,000 volunteer hours in southwest Louisiana.
“That was just through our partnership with Eight Days of Hope,” Baudoin explained. “We also had another 75 to 100 families served through some of our own separate teams serving after Laura.
Now, in the aftermath of Hurricane Delta, Love Acadiana’s work continues, coordinating relief and debris cleanup teams locally, welcoming Eight Days of Hope back to Jennings and serving with them there, and bringing love and help in whatever ways Acadiana needs it most.
FAQ: What you need to know about Love Acadiana
What is Love Acadiana?
Love Acadiana is the non-profit outreach arm of Our Savior’s Church. Its primary mission is to demonstrate love through action and help the children, families, hurting and needy across Acadiana. To date, Love Acadiana has worked to provide volunteers for school revitalization projects, clean-up after disasters, monthly “Serve Day” outreaches, and much more.
Why is Love Acadiana important?
The work done by Love Acadiana volunteers not only helps people in various tangible ways, but it’s performed most often by those who attest to having experienced the love of God personally and want to share it with others by serving. The objective is to show Jesus’ love in action. Through partnerships with other organizations and the faith community, Love Acadiana is able to bring together scores of volunteers in times of need and effectively manage large projects, but most of all bring hope to individuals who need it most.
What are some of the biggest challenges for Love Acadiana?
Tara Baudoin, Love Acadiana’s executive director, said the biggest challenge right now is a common one – responding to growing needs amidst a pandemic. She says one of the organization’s strengths has been attracting volunteers and organizing large service events. However, limitations on event size plus overall precautions have affected volunteer response, while the need for helping hands in 2020 continues to rise. Many opportunities to volunteer safely are still available though, and people can also provide assistance by donating.
How has COVID-19 affected Love Acadiana?
Some of the organization’s in-person work, like prison ministry, has been put on hold or modified to abide by social distancing rules. Meanwhile, the pandemic has brought about an increased need. In response, Love Acadiana has partnered with other organizations to provide surgical masks and food boxes throughout the community, to combat the effects of COVID.
How can I become a part of Love Acadiana?
You can join volunteer efforts by texting “loveacadiana” to 41411. Follow the organization on Facebook and Instagram at @loveacadiana. Also, keep checking their website, www.loveacadiana.org for ways to volunteer or make financial donations.
Meet the Team Member
Name: Amy Speidel
Title: Outreach coordinator
Organization: Love Acadiana
What led you to your current position with Love Acadiana?
An opportunity to help after the local 2016 flood with Our Savior’s Church (OSC) flood relief efforts. I was living and working in New York City at the time and knew one of the OSC pastors leading the response. They kindly asked me to come down to assist in in project management. I met so many wonderful people here and saw my passion and drive to serve others come alive, so I stayed and took the position as outreach coordinator.
What is the best part about your job?
The opportunity to connect with people one-on-one, getting to know them personally and walking with them through some of their most challenging times. We get to be God’s love for them in action.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Not being able to always meet everyone’s needs and not being able to help everyone in all ways.
Tell me about a memorable situation that stands out to you when Love Acadiana helped someone in the community.
During our recent Hurricane Laura response efforts, there was a woman, Mrs. Ann, who wasn’t on our list to help that day. We noticed her while we were helping her neighbor because the fence was blown down between their homes. This sweet 83-year-old widow was quietly raking her massive backyard that was full of devastation. I was able to bring over 15 amazing and willing volunteers and we helped clean up her entire home by the end of the day.
It brought her to tears, but it also showed me why God has me here. We were able to remind her that God had not forgotten her. We have stayed in touch with her and will walk with her as she navigates the next steps with other home repairs.
What have you learned about Lafayette as a result of your work with Love Acadiana?
There are many needs all over our community, but also many resources to help meet those needs. There is such a spirit of service in our community from people who have the desire, heart and ability to help others. When we can align them with a cause or someone in need, we can build connections that last long after the immediate need is met.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
I enjoy traveling all over the world. I love experiencing new places, people and cultures in every day. I have an adventurous and curious nature that has led me to explore many dynamic and fascinating countries abroad.